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Best Black Friday New-Car Deals

15 Best Black Friday New-Car Deals

The day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has become so much more than the official start to the holiday shopping season. It’s something of a tribal adventure, a challenge to see who can rise the earliest and withstand the highest degree of actual physical pain in search of an unbeatable bona fide bargain. While most of the action has traditionally taken place at department stores and electronics dealers, the high holy day of shopping has also become a major event at new-car showrooms. According to TrueCar, Inc., Black Friday and the Thanksgiving weekend are among the top five or six days of the year in which to leverage the deepest new-car discounts (with New Year’s Eve remaining the best day of the year in which to buy a car.)

Most brands are launching their “season of savings” promotions this week (get used to seeing those inferiority complex-inducing commercials with cars wrapped in giant ribbons for the next several weeks) while others are going all in with generous sales incentives especially targeted for Black Friday and the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend. Early holiday campaigns are expected to help November new-car sales outpace last year’s figures for the same period by 1.6 percent according to

“Car sales will remain elevated in November in large part because of Black Friday,” says senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. “In recent years both car shoppers and car dealers have turned toward Black Friday as an opportunity to dive into the holiday shopping season. This is a good example of how the auto industry continues to evolve to become more like the rest of the retail market.”

Among the biggest deals of the Thanksgiving weekend can be found at Buick dealers, where the automaker is offering a whopping 20 percent of MSRP cash back on Verano, Regal and LaCrosse sedans as part of their Black Friday Sales Event running through December 1. That would be as much as $8,000 off the top version of the 2015 LaCrosse (not including the dealer’s discount), which would be one of the largest incentives we’ve seen since Mercedes-Benz was offering soon-to-be shuttered Maybach dealers an extra $100,000 per unit to help discount and clear their inventories of unsold uber-luxury sedans.

Of course there is a catch. According to the brand’s consumer website, the 20 percent off promotion only applies to the 20 percent of all Verano, Regal and LaCrosse that have been in stock the longest as of November 21. That almost certainly means most will be 2014 models, which have already accumulated a year’s depreciation without ever having been titled, and at that they’re likely vehicles with odd feature combinations or color combinations that have thus far been hard to sell. Still, that’s some serious money being slapped on the hood to help foster a sale.

Even with the new-car business on a continued upswing, automakers continue to pile on the incentives – including cash rebates and lease/finance deals – to help keep customers coming through dealers’ showroom doors. According to data supplied by TrueCar, Inc., auto manufacturers’ incentive spending averaged $2,660 per vehicle in November, which is down a slight 0.2 percent from a year earlier and a drop of 2.3 percent over October 2014. General Motors is expected to spend the most money on incentives this month at an average $3,304 per vehicle, with runners up Ford and Fiat Chrysler putting up $3,217 and $3,027 per unit, respectively.

What’s more, declining gas prices are beginning to have an effect on new-vehicle supply, demand and deals. Consumers are beginning to take a second look at larger cars and SUVs/crossovers for the first time perhaps since the Great Recession, with interest in the smallest and most fuel-efficient models waning. “Small cars and small SUVs have experienced high demand for the last several years due to elevated gas prices and overall affordability, which made getting great deals on them rare,” says Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for “Since gas prices have started to decline, consumers are now finally able to get significant discounts, as well as great financing and leasing deals, on most small cars and SUVs.”

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A Sneak Peek at 2015′s Smartest Smart Cars

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Here’s the driver’s dream: A vehicle that sends us where we want to go, plays the music we want to hear, and allows us to communicate (within reason) with the outside world, all with minimal distraction. It’s the vision of the connected car, and it’s a promise many automakers hope to deliver for 2015.

But how close are we to this future? Last week, I combed the floor of the Los Angeles Auto Show with Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor at, sliding in and out of dozens of vehicles, smearing touchscreens with our fingerprints, and, in some cases, syncing our own phones to the next generation of connected vehicles to decide which of these systems we’d recommend to our readers.

The connected cars of tomorrow

For a certain breed of car customers, these tech-drives will become as important as test-drives. “You certainly want to get a feel for the car itself, but it’s just as important to test the technology,” says Montoya.

2015 autos, this technology will either be a customized “infotainment” system or basically a killer app: syncing the car with a drivers’ in-phone system, a la the recently announced Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Some smart cars will eventually offer both options.

Another big development for next year is that a hands-free, voice-control option will come standard in connected vehicles. So all the 2015 cars we saw had one of these guys:

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

The goal here of course is for cars to do everything you want without having to ever press a single button. But
until we all have cars that understand us as well as K.I.T.T., we’ll also need touchscreens, which is where the designs almost always let us down, as you’ll see.

Automakers can’t seem to agree where the touchscreen should be, and—bizarrely—if they should be touched at all. That’s because screens are also notoriously difficult to use while driving. Case in point: After Ford announced a sweeping all-touchscreen/voice control system, they went back and added volume knobs in 2013.

But here’s the biggest problem with all these systems: “There’s a lot of ego with car companies,” says Montoya. Every company wants its own proprietary system, with its own design, which means that almost every auto manufacturer is reinventing the wheel—so to speak.
Each car’s software system has its own ridiculous learning curve.

Plus, why would we want to learn how to interact with a completely new interface, touchscreen, and voice control system when our phones are already so comfortable to us? Notably, GM is delaying its connected car program, probably just to see how the whole Android Auto/Apple CarPlay scenario will play out.

Here are seven brand-new connected car systems, plus two aftermarket solutions, with our recommendations.

Android Auto | Hyundai

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

One of the most highly anticipated demos at the show was Android Auto.
Google released the API last week and is encouraging app makers to get to work creating relevant content for the system, so you’ll soon see additional music, news, and messaging apps, in addition to the ones we saw for Spotify and Google Play.

long list of automakers has pledged to support Android Auto but we demoed it installed in a late 2015 Hyundai Sonata where a fairly large touchscreen in the center dash allows you to poke at the screen (you can’t pinch or zoom) or control it by voice “Ok, Google…”

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Here’s where the phone/car convergence becomes so poetically sweet. Using Google Now, it knows all your destinations, schedule, contacts, etc. So say you get in the car and have an dinner reservation or a flight to catch. The navigation will cue up directions and tell you when it’s time to go and when to get going.

Yes, t
he absolute best part of Android Auto is, unsurprisingly, the maps. Gorgeous maps, incredible navigation, better than any other car’s proprietary system. And it’s an interface you’re totally familiar with so that should (should!) keep you safer behind the wheel, right? Your phone must have Lollipop, and if it does, it automatically pairs when you get in.

Apple CarPlay | Hyundai

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

A few feet away, the same late 2015 Hyundai Sonata was running Apple CarPlay, which requires iOS 7.1 or better and a lightning cable to connect. You’ve likely
seen the demos online for this as well, but this was the first time I got to play with CarPlay in person.

I have to say it felt much more true to the Apple experience than the Android one did, more like my iPhone or iPad was right there with me in the car. I’m an iPhone user so I immediately felt comfortable being to interact with it hands-free, thanks to
Siri’s intelligence, for better or for worse. We sent texts, got directions, found music, no problem.

Although the experience feels much more integrated than Google’s,
CarPlay didn’t seem as snappy as Android Auto. The maps are not nearly as good for driving. And since Apple hasn’t released its API publicly yet (they’re only working with a handful of private developers so far) there won’t be as many app options when this car hits the market.

But that’s not really a reason to switch operating systems just for your car—whichever you’re comfortable with will be better for you. Hyundai is working to accommodate both systems and its simple touchscreen makes it quite easy and lovely to interact with them. If you’re totally itching to get into a car with CarPlay, you’ll have to wait for this car, or one of the compatible Volvos or Mercedes models to hit the market.

Virtual Cockpit | Audi

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

One of the most futuristic takes on the display was Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which moves all of the action right to a huge full-color screen right behind the steering wheel. You can switch from a regular-looking dashboard, to a music-focused screen, to a glorious full-color navigation system, with the click of a button on the steering wheel or a tap on the clickwheel on the center console (more on that in a second).

While I worried that this was extremely distracting, I realized quickly that not having to glance over to the right at some other screen all the time was actually quite nice, and really, having the map right there was a huge improvement over most cars.

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

After two screen-only demos, it was funny how much we really appreciated the clickwheel. As Montoya noted, it’s very hard to judge your actions when you’re tapping away at a screen. Yes, you can use your voice, and almost all of these can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel, but sometimes you really just need tactile feedback.

Another quirk of the Audi system was that all the radio/media remains behind the steering wheel always—there are no extra screens for your passengers to see, which doesn’t make it easy for your them to control your music (but maybe that’s a good thing in your car). The Virtual Cockpit will be available on all Audi’s TT models for 2015.

Remote Touchpad | Lexus

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Lexus made some supposedly impressive upgrades to its connected car system, but I couldn’t deal with any of it because the interface was so poorly designed. The icons displayed on my thermostat screen at home are more legible and the little mousepad on the center console felt like it was from the 1990s. Even worse, it wasn’t at all responsive; I felt like I was trying to play Ouija with some unseen force in the car. Pass.

XC90 Tablet Infotainment Screen | Volvo

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

One of the best designed in-car experiences was found at Volvo, where a new “infotainment” screen is embedded in the center console. L
ike the Audi Virtual Cockpit, some of your navigation is moved to behind the steering wheel, where you’ll get decent directions alongside the rest of your digital dashboard information.

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

But unlike the Virtual Cockpit, in addition to all of that you still get this beautiful full-size screen in center of the dashboard, which is one of the biggest and prettiest I’ve ever seen in a car (it’s very similar to what Teslas have, although theirs are bigger). We happily tapped away at the touchscreen, dreaming about what it will be like to get CarPlay on this big, pretty screen, which will happen for 2015 (for a preview, here’s CarPlay on a Volvo Concept Estate). They’ll also support Android Auto.

Control Knob With Touchpad | Mercedes

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Mercedes’ new connected car system will be available on both its new C and S Class cars for 2015, and you can already also see how the
same system will support Apple CarPlay. A screen that sticks up, way up, above the dashboard almost looks like some kind of add-on, but it’s designed that way to make it more visible. Okay, go safety! The navigation was actually very nice and although the voice control was a bit wavery, it got the job done. We found our way to a local gas station without too much weirdness.

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

The dirty, fingerprint-smeared secret about that alluring screen? YOU CAN’T TOUCH IT. Which means: two knobs in the center console. While we didn’t hate this one, we found it overly clunky. You can either navigate through the screen using the clickwheel seen on the bottom, like Audi, or a kind of Magic Mouse-esque device that sits above it. This was just silly. Again, the tactile feedback of the wheel is is nice, but why can’t we just touch the screen, Mercedes?

IntelliLink/MyLink | GMC/Chevrolet

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Known by a two different names depending on which kind of car you’re in, Chevy’s MyLink/GMC’s IntelliLink has a bunch of sweet features that boosts it above many of the other, fancier systems.
First of all GMC can turn your car into a wifi hot spot, meaning passengers can get online (you gotta buy a data plan, of course).

But it also means that your car can download software updates for itself. I’m guessing updating some of the other cars might require a trip to the dealer. The other great thing GMC is doing is installing vehicle-to-vehicle communication in every car—an important first step towards autonomy.

A Sneak Peek at 2015's Smartest Smart Cars

Beyond that, I was able to easily pair my iPhone with the car (no downloading of apps required, just Bluetooth) and practice sending and receiving text messages. One funny quirk is that you have to use their predetermined responses, because, you know, you wouldn’t want to be too distracted. The design here wasn’t overly sophisticated but this system is standard on all 2015 models, which shows how committed GMC/Chevy is to the technology.

The Others

There were two new systems announced this week which we did not get to test. First was the JustDrive app by Jaguar Land Rover which will allow drivers to usee voice control within their cars’ InControl systems to access their own apps hands-free. And second was HondaLink, which turns your phone into a “digital hub” for your car. I later found out it required four apps (one of which was $60) and a special HDMI to lightning cable that costs $100.

Aftermarket Options

I said at the beginning of the article that there’s no way to get CarPlay in a brand-new car today. Well, that’s not
exactly true. There are two aftermarket car stereo options you can install that play nice with CarPlay: Alpine’s iLX-007 and Pioneer’s AVIC-X8000NEX.

Both of these can run CarPlay in much the same way we saw it integrated into the Hyundai. They’ll cost you ($800 to $1400, plus installation) and as Montoya pointed out to me you have to worry about these units getting stolen, just like you would any high-end stereo system. If that’s worth the risk to you, and you’ve just gotta have a connected car
now, investing in one of these systems for your current clunker might be the way to go.

Which brings up another interesting point that Montoya and I chatted about as we left the floor: Will we someday choose our cars based on how well they integrate with our preferred operating system, which are quickly becoming like “lifestyle dashboards” across all our technology?

Maybe. But the bigger issue looming is that these companies are trying to add too many features to the driving experience. The answer is really to start removing what we can do behind the wheel. “There is such a thing as cognitive overload, and we’re already maxing out the amount of things we can process,” says Montoya. “A lot of us are crappy drivers as is.”

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IN FERGUSON: Police cars, businesses on fire, tear gas deployed at protesters …

FERGUSON - Shortly after 1:30 a.m., St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar spoke with reporters at a press conference after a night of looting and burned-out businesses after the grand jury announcement. He said he was grateful nobody was killed but disappointed at the amount of damage in the Ferguson area.

“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August, and that’s truly unfortunate,” he said.

He said that there was basically “nothing left” along West Florissant between Solway Avenue and Chambers Road. “Frankly, I’m heartbroken about that,” he said.

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said, “We talked about peaceful protest, and that did not happen tonight. We definitely have done something here that’s going to impact our community for a long time…that’s not how we create change.”

Belmar said that officers did deploy tear gas near West Florissant and Chambers roads and a highway patrol lieutenant was hit by a glass bottle. He said as far as he knew police did not fire shots but there was plenty of gunfire in the area.  He said he personally heard at least 150 shots.

He said he and Johnson drove around earlier and “got lit up,” and he was surprised they were not hit. Commanding officers were hesitant to leave officers at road blockades because of so much gunfire in those particular areas, he said.

They reported one shooting in the 9100 block of Halls Ferry Road and a report of one near the McDonald’s on West Florissant Avenue.

They reported 29 arrests in and around Ferguson. They seized one handgun, he said. Two St. Louis County Police cars were torched, he said.

“Change is created through our voice, not the destruction of our community,” said Johnson.

Belmar said he didn’t think the late-in-the-day timing of the announcement was a factor in the violence. He said he didn’t get any advance notice of what the jury’s decision would be and that he didn’t expect it because it would be inappropriate under the grand jury system.

“I don’t think we were underprepared,” he said.

He and Johnson spent many hours meeting with protesters and clergy in recent weeks, he said. “”We not only were engaged, we did everything we could to prevent this.”

He said he expected more National Guard troops in the near future and changes in “operation procedures.”

Shortly after 2 a.m., at least five busloads of National Guard troops pulled up along South Florissant Road in the old town area of Ferguson.

Meanwhile, at least a dozen cars were on fire at an Auto By Credit dealership in Delwood at about 2 a.m. Tuesday. Just north of the dealership, a Conoco service station convenience store was destroyed by fire.

1:22 a.m. Several businesses were on fire and broken into Monday night in Ferguson after word of no charges against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Gunfire was heard throughout the area, but by 12:30 a.m. the situation had settled down enough for firefighters to respond.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Governor Jay Nixon issued a press release saying he ordered more Missouri National Guardsmen to Ferguson. “The Guard is providing security at the Ferguson Police Department, which will allow additional law enforcement officers to protect the public,” the statement said.

A press conference by commanding police officers was scheduled for 1:30 a.m. at the command post in Ferguson.

As of 1:25 a.m., area hospitals reported a total of at least 13 injuries, including two with gunshot wounds.

At 1 a.m., police arrested a man suspected of looting a Phillips 66 convenience store at Chambers road and Atwater Avenue, just west of West Florissant Avenue. The store had been trashed.

Shortly after 1 a.m., as many as five buildings were burning along West Florissant Avenue just south of Chambers road, including the Fashions R Boutique, a Title Max and an Auto Zone.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m., the scene on West Florissant was safe enough for firefighters to begin putting out fires.

By 12:30 a.m., the crowd along West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive had dispersed and police were in the street. Firefights reached the fire at Sam’s Meat Market about 20 minutes ago and began dousing it, but Red’s Barbecue to the north at Canfield was burning unchecked.

At midnight, police resumed their advance north on West Florissant Avenue toward Canfield, behind the line of police armored vehicles. The officers wore full riot gear, many carrying shotguns and assault rifles.

St. Louis County Police were reporting the sound of heavy automatic gunfire near West Florissant and Canfield at about 11 p.m.

Among several buildings burning or burnt in and around Ferguson is the one that houses #HealStL, the community outreach program set up by St. Louis Alderman Antonio French.

The fire started in a cell phone business that is in the same building at 9171 West Florissant Avenue and eventually spread to the #HealSTL office.

Shortly after midnight, the Family Dollar Store on Halls Ferry Road just south of Interstate 270 caught fire. At an O’Reilly Auto Parts nearby that apparently had been looted, police had several young males in handcuffs.

By midnight, at least ten flights had been diverted from Lambert International Airport because of flight restrictions in the area. A temporary flight restriction was still in effect.

At about 12:20 a.m., a car was on fire in the parking lot of a convenience store at Chambers and West Florissant roads. Several people were running in and out of the store, Energy Express, their arms full of goods. No police were immediately visible, and people were stopping their cars in the middle of the roadways and running around.

At about 12:30 a.m., smiling and laughing people ran in and out of Dellwood Market on Chambers Road as they took beer and candy. The business had been looted before.

Shortly at 11:30 p.m., a young man drove up to the police line in a parking lot on West Florissant Avenue and said he had been shot in the leg. He climbed out of his car, dazed and limping, and appeared to have a wound near one ankle. He at first refused medical treatment, saying he didn’t want to leave his gray Ford Mustang. “It’s all I have,” he said.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said he was contacting elected officials and every contact he had in the governor’s office to try to get the National Guard to respond as multiple businesses burned in the city.

“They’re not here. They’re not responding,” Knowles said. “We’re trying to work every avenue. Right now, we’re just hoping they’ll respond.”

Several of the businesses on fire or broken into had been broken into before.

Shortly before midnight, two young men who watched the fires on West Florissant from a parking lot sought to justify the violence to a reporter. Steven Rodriguez, 22, of Ferguson, said, “This violence wasn’t planned. This happened because people are sick and tired of being shot and bullied by the police.”

With him was Kenneth Covington, 24, of north St. Louis, who added, “There have been so many black men killed by police but police are never held accountable for it.”

There were at least six police armored vehicles in West Florissant Avenue, south of Canfield, in the lead of the police line. Several motorists have driven south on West Florissant toward the police vehicles, then suddenly spun U-turns and returned toward Canfield.

Ferguson Market was broken into and looted. The market is the store where Michael Brown was caught on video stealing cigars and shoving a store clerk a short time before Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot him Aug. 9. The store was looted and vandalized days afterwards.

Red’s Barbecue, at the entrance to Canfield, was damaged by fire.

Along West Florissant just north of 270, in Greystone Plaza, about 20 men with handguns and AR-15 rifles stood around the perimeter of the parking lot, guarding the dozen or so stores.

They estimated that 100 cars had come by throughout the night, seemingly to check the place out, but turned away. 

Mike Cross, the owner of St. Louis Ink at the plaza, said: “There’s nothing in this strip mall open, so you’re going to get scrutinized.”

The strip mall had been hit by vandals soon after the shooting in August.

Within an hour after the announcement was made, protesters had mostly moved away from the front of the Ferguson Police Department. Some were moving north on South Florissant Road.  A St. Louis County Police car was on fire in the 400 block of South Florissant, a few blocks south of the police station. At around 10 p.m., police reported a second police car on fire on the same block.

Several fires were set in trash cans up and down the street.

St. Louis County Police reported at 10:14 p.m. that they were responding to a shooting in the 9100 block of New Halls Ferry Road, about four miles away from the police station.

At West Florissant Avenue and Interstate 270, north of the police station, people were looting at Toys R Us shortly after 11 p.m.

Some businesses along West Florissant near the site of the Mike Brown shooting were on fire. Gunshots rang out nearby.

Firefighters had to pull out from the scenes because of numerous shots fired in the area.

Shortly before 10:30 p.m., another fire broke out in a business building just south of the McDonald’s on West Florissant Avenue, which is near Canfield Green and the scene of most of the protests in August. Firefighters battled the blaze as police in riot gear stood in the street.

Windows were smashed at the McDonald’s and other businesses nearby.

A Little Caesar’s pizzeria was also burned and looted. St. Louis Fish Chicken and Grill nearby was also on fire.

An antiques and collectibles store, Hidden Treasures, attached to Little Caesar’s was also destroyed by fire. Neighborhood resident Bret Gray, 49, came to the scene and said the woman who owned the store hand-picked the items she sold and gave good deals to people. “To see it go up like this is very disappointing,” he said. “That’s sad to see.”

Firefighters were at the scene, spraying down the Little Caesar’s at 10:32 p.m.

People were breaking into Public Storage on West Florissant and smoke was coming out of Sam’s Meat Market, Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes tweeted.  St. Louis County Police said both businesses were set on fire. Fire was gutting the office building attached to the storage facility. The Beauty Town store on West Florissant had burned to the ground.

Several businesses north of the police station had front windows busted out.

The Walgreens at Hereford and North Florissant roads was on fire, though smoke was inside the building at 10:32 p.m. and a reporter did not see flames.

Witnesses reported an elderly man was run over after two people stole his car on the parking lot Faraci pizzeria on South Florissant.  

Jaye Perry, 52, of Ferguson, said she had been talking to the man and he had told her, “Only in America do you see stuff like this.” The man then went back to his car to get a new oxygen tank, which he had been using to help him breathe.

But then two men approached him and took his car, she said. The man held on to his steering wheel and tried to hold on, but was run over as they sped away. He didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, and continued to yell for his oxygen tank. An ambulance took him away.

In Ferguson, a police line in riot gear stood in the middle of South Florissant, appearing to guard the Ferguson Brewing Company. Behind them, the police car burned, along with a dumpster about a half a block away from the brewpub.

About 100 people stood nearby, but they remained peaceful, some jovial. 

St. Louis  County Police reported a peaceful protester was hit in the face with a piece of concrete.

FERGUSON •  Outside the Ferguson Police Department, anger and disbelief rippled through the crowd after word came out that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. 

“Oh, my God!” a man screamed.

Shortly after 9 p.m., police warned the hundreds of protesters in front of the police station to leave, that they were unlawfully assembled. Most had complied. “You need to stop throwing objects at the police and disperse immediately,” an officer told them over a loudspeaker.

At about 9:15 p.m., police deployed tear gas on an unruly group of protesters who had gathered south of the police station.

Police had said that they deployed tear gas after they used smoke to attempt to disperse the crowd. Earlier they had said they did not use gas.

Earlier, a group bounced a St. Louis County Police car. Others threw chairs through the front windows of El Palenque Mexican restaurant. Cathy’s Kitchen near the station had a window smashed. Some protesters broke up bricks in a parking lot nearby. 

A police line in riot gear stood in the road. They warned the protesters to clear the street, some didn’t, then police deployed the smoke. St. Louis County Police tweeted that the substance was smoke and not tear gas, as some in the streets reported. At 10:35 p.m., police confirmed what they used was tear gas.

Earlier, hundreds of people blocked South Florissant Road as they huddled around smartphones and strained to hear to audio of Robert McCulloch’s announcement from a courtroom at the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton. Some gathered around cars playing the speech on news radio. After McCulloch said that there was no indictment, camera shutters clicked, people started yelling. Others screamed, “keep the peace!”

Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, stood on a pedestal in front of the police department and put her face in her hands as the crowd gathered around her. Some people began running north on South Florissant.

McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., Brown’s parents, issued a statement through their attorney, Benjamin Crump:

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.

“Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

“We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

“Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

At word of the announcement, dozens of young men and women piled into cars at Canfield Green apartment complex, where Brown was shot, and sped toward the police station.

Immediately after the announcement, the scene remained relatively peaceful as people continued to strain to listen to McCulloch’s speech. But at one point, gunfire could be heard nearby. Police donned riot gear and stood in the street.

“What’s done is done, now do what you gotta do,” an angry woman yelled into a bullhorn. 

“It’s a brotherhood. In the cop community, they stand together,” said Patria Shepard, 35, a customer service representative who lives in Florissant, as she stood outside the police station. “When you are sworn in with that badge, no matter how much wrong you do, it’s right.”

Briana Bobo, 25, Ballwin, stood outside the police station with tears in her eyes. “It seems that nothing that we do matters,” she said. “We can’t win for losing.”

Our earlier story: 

On South Florissant Road, across from the Ferguson Police Department, the crowd continues to grow, to several hundred, as the grand jury announcement grows near. Traffic was at a standstill in both directions.

Meanwhile, about 75 people who were blocking traffic at Airport Road and South Florissant Road, about three-fourths of a mile north of the police station, have moved to the sidewalks, at the urging of police. Traffic continues to move slowly in the area.

As people awaited the announcement, groups of people were huddled talking, many looking at their phones. A small group of St. Louis County Police officers stood in front of the police station, their hands in their pockets, and a small group of protesters screamed at them.

A couple miles north of the police station, about six men stood in front of Greystone Plaza, a small shopping center that had been looted soon after the Michael Brown shooting in August. The men wore masks and carried handguns and AR-15 rifles.

“I will definitely call police first,” in case the store sees trouble, said St. Louis Ink Tattoo studio owner Mike Cross, 35. “We are not trigger happy by any means. We all have families, and homes and vehicles and bills. So this place cannot go anywhere.”

At the police station, retired Philadelphia Police Capt. Ray Lewis joined demonstrators across the street to show the protest movement has wide support.

“I wanted to be here to support the people, and to give a different image of the protesters … that a white, male former police captain is supportive of the residents here,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who said he worked 24 years in Philadelphia, said there must be a trial in the shooting of Michael Brown.

“When you have a cop kill a black male like that, that has to go to an open trial,” he said. “The transparency is absolutely necessary.”

Ferguson resident Lamont Gardner last turned out to a protest here shortly after Michael Brown’s death in August “to see how the crowd was reacting to the news.”

On Monday, Gardner was watching the crowd gathered across from the police station for much the same reason.

“It seems like they’re reacting to things real calmly ,” said Gardner, who brought his three children with him. “They’re excited at the same time.”

He said Brown’s shooting has opened people’s eyes in the Ferguson community.

“It has made people either hate more or love more,” he said.

At the shooting scene, in the 2900 block of Canfield Drive, about two dozen people were gathered, most of them members of the media. Few had gathered at West Florissant and Canfield Drive. 

Earlier this afternoon, Mel Moffitt of Lost Voices, an organization with an office on West Florissant Avenue, said it will work to preserve peace no matter how the jury rules.

“No matter what people have said about us being violent, that’s not what we are about,” Moffitt said. “We are not going to allow a repeat of the violence and damage that happened to his area in August.”

Residents headed home from work said they were hunkering down for the night.

“My main concern was to get home to my babies so I can hug and keep them safe,” said Kenna Lewis, 31,who has lived in the Canfield Green apartments for a year. I know they are going to be terrified when everything starts happening.”

She has four boys, ages 10 years to 17 months.

Terrence Lawrence, 26, was walking to his apartment in the Northwinds complex next to Canfield carrying several bags of groceries. His girlfriend, Destini Shaw, 20, was carrying Amore, Terrence’s 15-month old daughter. They moved into the neighborhood after the shooting.

Lawrence and Shaw said they have no plans to join protesters, no matter the outcome.

“I have kids and work. I don’t have the time for it,” said Lawrence.

Michael Brown’s family released a statement this afternoon, asking for 4 1/2 minutes of silence to honor their son. The timing of the silence is intended to symbolize the 4 1/2 hours Brown’s body remained on Canfield Drive after he was fatally shot.

“After the Grand Jury’s decision, we are asking for 4 1/2 minutes of silence to remember why we lift our voices. We are not here to be violent. We are here in memory of our son. We are here for protection of all children. We are here to support justice and equality for all people. We lift our voices to ensure black and brown men, women, and children can live in this country without being devalued because of the color of our skin.”

St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who was in the thick of the daily protests in August, left his office on West Florissant with a box of gloves and hats for protesters. 

“This is a long struggle,” he told a reporter. “Reject fear and violence no matter how the grand jury rules.”

At a news conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Gov. Jay Nixon called for tolerance, mutual respect and restraint and that priorities must be to protect life, protect property and to protect free speech. 

Earlier, Nixon participated in a conference call with about 25 to 30 clergy members. During the 20-minute call, clergy were given the opportunity to ask the governor questions surrounding his decision last week to issue a state of emergency. Clergy said Nixon expressed a concern for the loss of life.

But clergy also described the call as a last-minute effort to appease them ahead of the grand jury announcement.

The Rev. Cassandra Gould of Quinn Chapel AME Church in Jefferson City, who helped organize the conference, said the issues involving Ferguson “take more than a 20 minute conference call on the fly.”

The Rev. C. Jessel Strong, president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Coalition, said he felt the call was Nixon trying “to let us know he was on top of things.”

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, who described the call as “benign,” said she was confident those out on the streets would be on their best behavior tonight.

“I don’t believe this going to be some kind of violent showdown,” she said.

Blackmon said she still believed Wilson should be indicted.

“What happens tonight says something about how this state values black life.”

Along West Florissant Avenue — well east of the Ferguson downtown and scene of most of the August protests — attendants boarded up service stations. Few had gathered at West Florissant and Canfield Drive. 

Traffic flowed normally along West Florissant. As of 3:30 p.m., no crowd had formed at the memorial on Canfield Drive, where Michael Brown was shot fatally on Aug. 9. 

Inside Ferguson Market Liquor, 9101 West Florissant, business continued but owners said they will close at the first sign of trouble. The store is where a video monitor recorded Brown allegedly stealing cigars and shoving an attendant shortly before he was killed.

The store was looted one night after the security video was released.

One block north, insurance agent Dan McMullen took calls from clients inside his boarded-up office.

“I have my protection handy,” McMullen said, petting his giant schnauzer named Maverick. The dog growls at anyone who enters the room.

If needed, McMullen said, he also has his .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

A number of schools in the St. Louis area have canceled after-school and evening activities. Of the districts within the city of Ferguson, Jennings, Hazelwood, Ferguson-Florissant and Riverview Gardens have canceled school for rest of the week. The Normandy School District, where Brown graduated, also has canceled classes.

Jesse Bogan, Elisa Crouch, Nancy Cambria, Ken Leiser, Steve Giegerich, Lilly Fowler, Paul Hampel, Jennifer Mann, Tim O’Neil, Doug Moore and Nick Pistor, all of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this article.

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Cars burn in Dellwood dealership lot

DELLWOOD, MO (KTVI) – Protesters lit cars on fire in the Auto Buy Credit car lot Monday night.  Many vehicles could be seen with broken glass.  Soon after they started smoking and then burning.

It is not clear what started the vehicles on fire.  The fires started a few hours after the grand jury revealed the decision in the Michael Brown case.  Many area businesses are also on fire.  The Conoco gas station convenience store next to the lot also burned to the ground.

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Top tech cars of the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

Jeff Conrad with the 2016 Honda HR-V Crossover at 2014 Los Angel

121128_7875_LAThe annual Los Angeles Auto Show continues to dazzle with new car intros and concept cars. As well it should. LA is the car culture capital of the US and the world, more so that Detroit (heresy to live-in-the-past Michiganders), clearly more so that taxi-driven New York City, home to the two biggest US shows. More automakers have their US headquarters in California, there are more design studios and electronics RD labs in California, and America’s most innovative car company is in California: Tesla.

This was a typical year for LA: plenty of green cars with the BMW i3 wining the Green Car Journal car of the year award, fascinating concept cars, and at least one solid trend. In this case the trend it was the rush of new (Honda, Mazda) and refreshed (Nissan) subcompact SUVs in the low and midprice range.

LA’s one drawback is a modest convention hall split into two segments. Here’s our take on the best cars and SUVs of the 2014 LA auto show, which is completing press days and opening for a week-and-a-half run for the public at the LA Convention Center through Thanksgiving Sunday.

The 2016 Honda HR-V Crossover at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

Honda HR-V mini SUV

2016 Honda HR-VFor urbanites who want a car to own, not a Lyft, Honda made an SUV out of the hatchback Honda Fit, our Editors’ Choice for subcompact cars. The 2016 Honda HR-V (main photo) is 169 inches long (4300 mm), nine inches longer than the Fit, the same as the boxy Honda Element (RIP 2011), and 11 inches shorter than the best-selling Honda CR-V hatchback.

Honda pulled from the Fit, CR-V and Civic parts bins for technology: The LaneWatch right side camera that Honda uses for blind spot detection is on all three. All three  offer continuously variable transmissions. The Display Audio LCD in the center stack looks more Fit than CR-V or Civic but either way the buttons are small. The four-cylinder engine, here generating 138 hp, is based on a Civic engine. The look is more Fit than CR-V; the name suggests a variant on the CR-V packaging. Honda at LA did not mention the high tech Touring package of the CR-V that incorporates adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. 

The HR-V should be a good fit for Millennials and other urban dwellers dealing with tight parking spaces when returning from Ikea. Boomers living outside the urban core who are downsizing cars may be looking for some of the tech features of their existing midsize or large cars. For them, the CR-V may be as small as they’ll go if they want serious tech. That or they’ll look to the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA at $30,000 and up. The closest existing competitor to the CR-V may be the Nissan Juke but it’s a relatively small seller, about 35,000 units this year, vs. 50,000 Fits and more than 300,000 CR-Vs. Others in the category include the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, and just-announced Mazda CX-3 (below).

Like the Fit, the HR-V has the Magic Seat feature, meaning they fold low and flat by pull a nylon release tab. That’s possible because the gas tank is under the front not rear seat. The HR-V goes on sale in spring 2015 as a 2016 model.

Toyota Mirai LA Auto Show November 2014

Toyota Mirai fuel-cell car also powers your home

Toyota Mirai LA Auto Show November 2014The coolest tech car of LA is the Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell, a midsize car with a 300-mile range using highly compressed hydrogen, Toyota says. It goes on sale in a year in California. The Golden State has the greatest density of hydrogen refueling stations (not many, as opposed to virtually none in the rest of the country). But the numbers are increasing, and Toyota hopes to follow on with sales in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

The fuel cell generates electricity (and water vapor), so Toyota is pitching the Mirai as an emergency generator for the house during a power failure. Toyota talked about a week or two of energy for an American house running at partial load. (Beware using comparisons based on Japanese homes, which use about half the electricity American houses do.)

The price is $58,000, but thanks to the tax breaks for early adopters, incentives may cut the price to $45,000. One $8,000 tax credit is due to expire at the end of 2014, however. (Japan is offering incentives to the homeland market, too, as much as 30%.) There’s also a $499 lease that includes free hydrogen. Toyota says there might be as many as 3,000 Mirais on the roads by 2017.

Don’t be surprised to see initial inventory going to influencers in Hollywood, politics and the media, since they’ll be happiest to talk up the need for more investment in hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Currently, the California Fuel Cell Partnership shows nine stations open, one for every four million people.

Toyota says it’s taking the long view with fuel cells — a decade or two just as it did with the Prius hybrid, which was initially dismissed as a feel-good for granola-eaters, propped up by tax credits and HOV-lane passes at its 1997 rollout. Last year it sold 250,000 units in the US and was among the top 20 models for sales. Worldwide, Toyota has sold 3.5 million Priuses.

Next page: Audi, Ford, and SUVs

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Fuel cell cars steal spotlight

Momentum builds to make hydrogen a viable option





Meet the companies and individuals attempting to make hydrogen-fueled vehicles as easy to drive and refuel as a gasoline-powered one.
» View our special report

Gabe Nelson


Jaclyn Trop

Automotive News
November 24, 2014 – 12:01 am ET

LOS ANGELES — Automakers are beginning to nudge the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle out of the illusion factory that is Southern California and into the broader conversation about the future of clean transportation.

At last week’s Los Angeles Auto Show, battery electric vehicles and hybrids, which once dominated California clean-energy car talk, were far overshadowed by announcements of new fuel cell concepts and investments in hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The developments indicate that automakers see enough promise in fuel cell vehicles to take concrete steps toward creating a viable market for them.

Honda, a longtime leader in fuel cell vehicle development, agreed to chip in $13.8 million to help build fueling stations in California. Toyota, which already is aiding that effort, will collaborate on a fueling network in the Northeast. Volkswagen indicated that once the infrastructure develops sufficiently, it’s prepared to bring a range of hydrogen-powered vehicles to the market.

And leading into the show, Toyota unveiled its first production fuel cell car, the Mirai, which will appear in showrooms next year. Toyota won’t be the first to put a fuel cell vehicle on the streets — Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have had tests or small-scale leasing programs under way — but it’s the first to put a retail sticker price on one: $57,500.

The price, which doesn’t include federal and California incentives of about $13,000, hardly accounts for the millions of dollars of rd and component costs that have gone into fuel cell vehicles. Rather, at a level somewhere between a Prius and a Tesla Model S, it reflects Toyota’s best guess of what a consumer might be willing to pay for the latest in powertrain innovation.

“We thought we could sell at this price level,” Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai and former chief engineer for the Prius plug-in hybrid, said during a Mirai launch event in Japan. “And we had a gut feeling it is economically feasible, and that’s why we chose it.”

‘Strong determination’

The momentum behind fuel cells suggests that automakers see their principal challenges — sparse fueling infrastructure and high cost — as potentially more surmountable over the long term than the ones facing battery EVs, including limited range and long charging times. Both the Mirai and Honda’s next-generation fuel cell vehicle can travel 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel and require three to five minutes to refuel at the pump, an experience similar to gasoline. They emit only water vapor from the tailpipe.

“Considering environmental issues, we automakers have a strong determination to switch to this clean energy as early as possible,” said Honda President Takanobu Ito. “Therefore, perhaps it’s too optimistic to say in 20 years’ time, but I dream of seeing a considerable number of fuel cell vehicles running on the roads 30 years from now.”

Toyota plans to deliver 700 Mirai units worldwide next year and projects cumulative sales of 3,000 by the end of 2017 and “tens of thousands” by 2020, said Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, calling the Mirai a “social and economic game changer.”

Those numbers depend on major improvements to the hydrogen fuel filling infrastructure, where auto industry and public investments are beginning to spur progress, primarily in California.

Toyota already had lent more than $7 million to Southern California startup FirstElement Fuel to begin construction of 19 stations across the state, in conjunction with a large state grant. Last week, Honda agreed to a $13.8 million loan that would help FirstElement propose construction of a dozen more stations in California.

But with its announcement last week of a deal with France’s Air Liquide, Toyota became the first automaker to signal interest in expanding the U.S. hydrogen footprint beyond California. The deal calls for developing and building a dozen stations around Greater New York and Boston.

Unlocked potential

Such efforts, if successful, could help unleash more of the costly fuel cell work that automakers have kept tethered to the laboratory bench for more than a decade.

Toyota, for its part, has been working on fuel cell cars for more than 20 years. One reason it has taken so long to get to this point is that the technology involves a chemical, not mechanical, process. “As an automaker, we had little experience in that field,” Tanaka said.

Honda, which introduced its first fuel cell vehicle in 2002, is now working on its third-generation vehicle, which it previewed here last week, though the U.S. launch has been delayed to 2016 amid a worldwide quality review. General Motors, which launched a test fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox crossovers in 2007, partnered with Honda last year to develop fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies for 2020.

At last week’s auto show, the VW brand showed a hydrogen-fueled version of its Golf SportWagen capable of traveling 310 miles between fill-ups, and Audi showed what it called the first hydrogen-fueled performance car, the A7 h-tron plug-in hybrid concept.

Meanwhile, VW is testing a fleet of hydrogen cars in California and is preparing a larger test fleet, said Hans-Jakob Neusser, development chief for the brand.

VW isn’t prepared to offer one to customers until it is confident that enough fueling stations will be available. “It really depends on infrastructure,” Neusser told reporters.

But some of the other pieces are falling into place. Neusser said parent Volkswagen Group designed its new MQB scalable platform to accommodate a modular fuel stack, so a hydrogen car can roll down the assembly line bumper-to-bumper with cars that have a range of other powertrains, from gasoline to diesel to battery EVs.

Volkswagen Group also decided to make fuel cells a groupwide rd project, meaning that its other brands — such as Bentley, Seat, Skoda and Porsche — could use the technology if needed.

“When the market is there,” Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn told reporters, “we are flexible enough.” 

Hans Greimel contributed to this report

You can reach Gabe Nelson at

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Ethics could take detour with self-driving cars

— A large truck speeding in the opposite direction suddenly veers into your lane.

Jerk the wheel left and smash into a bicyclist?

Swerve right toward a family on foot?

Slam the brakes and brace for head-on impact?

Drivers make split-second decisions based on instinct and a limited view of the dangers around them. The cars of the future — those that can drive themselves thanks to an array of sensors and computing power — will have near-perfect perception and react based on programmed logic.

While cars that do most or even all of the driving may be much safer, accidents happen.

It’s relatively easy to write computer code that directs the car on how to respond to a sudden dilemma. The hard part is deciding what that response should be.

“The problem is, who’s determining what we want?” asked Jeffrey Miller, a University of Southern California professor who develops driverless vehicle software. “You’re not going to have 100 percent buy-in that says, ‘Hit the guy on the right.’

Companies that are testing driverless cars are not focusing on these moral questions.

The company most aggressively developing self-driving cars isn’t a carmaker at all. Google has invested heavily in the technology, driving hundreds of thousands of miles on roads and highways in tricked-out Priuses and Lexus SUVs. Leaders at the Silicon Valley giant have said they want to get the technology to the public by 2017.

For now, Google is focused on mastering the most common driving scenarios, programming the cars to drive defensively in hopes of avoiding the rare instances when an accident is truly unavoidable.

“People are philosophizing about it, but the question about real-world capability and real-world events that can affect us, we really haven’t studied that issue,” said Ron Medford, the director of safety for Google’s self-driving car project.

One of those philosophers is Patrick Lin, a professor who directs the ethics and emerging sciences group at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

“This is one of the most profoundly serious decisions we can make. Program a machine that can foreseeably lead to someone’s death,” said Lin. “When we make programming decisions, we expect those to be as right as we can be.”

What “right” looks like may differ from company to company, but according to Lin, automakers have a duty to show that they have wrestled with these complex questions — and publicly reveal the answers they reach.

Technological advances will only add to the complexity, especially when in-car sensors become so acute they can, for example, differentiate between a motorcyclist wearing a helmet and a companion riding without one. If a collision is inevitable, should the car hit the person with a helmet because the injury risk might be less? But that would penalize the person who took extra precautions.

Lin said he has discussed the ethics of driverless cars with Google as well as automakers including Tesla, Nissan and BMW. As far as he knows, only BMW has formed an internal group to study the issue.

Many automakers remain skeptical that cars will operate completely without drivers, at least not in the next five or 10 years.

Uwe Higgen, head of BMW’s group technology office in Silicon Valley, said the automaker has brought together specialists in technology, ethics, social impact, and the law to discuss a range of issues related to cars that do ever-more driving instead of people.

“This is a constant process going forward,” Higgen said.

To some, the fundamental moral question doesn’t ask about rare and catastrophic accidents but rather how to balance appropriate caution over introducing the technology against its potential to save lives. After all, more than 30,000 people die in traffic accidents each year in the United States.

“No one has a good answer for how safe is safe enough,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor who has written extensively on self-driving cars. The cars “are going to crash, and that is something that the companies need to accept and the public needs to accept.”

And what about government regulators — how will they react to crashes, especially those that are particularly gruesome or the result of a decision that a person would be unlikely to make? Just four states have passed any rules governing self-driving cars on public roads, and the federal government appears to be in no hurry to regulate them.

In California, the department of motor vehicles is discussing ethical questions with companies, but isn’t writing rules.

“That’s a natural question that would come up and it does come up,” said Bernard Soriano, the department’s point man on driverless cars, of how cars should decide between a series of bad choices.

“There will have to be some sort of explanation.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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The Hassle of ‘Hands Free’ Car Tech

Someday, cars may drive themselves. But first car makers must convince consumers their automobiles can handle simpler tasks on their own—like changing the radio station or making a phone call.

The auto industry’s record run of 50 million cars recalled this year has highlighted defects with mechanical systems such as ignition switches, fuel pumps and air bags. Looking ahead, the industry faces equally difficult challenges from digital…

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For Google’s self-driving cars, learning to deal with the bizarre is essential –

In 700,000 miles of navigating roads, Google’s self-driving cars have encountered just about everything — including an elderly woman in a motorized wheelchair flailing a broom at a duck she was chasing around the street.

Apparently perplexed and taking no chances, the vehicle stopped and refused to go farther.

Through extensive testing covering nearly every street in Google’s hometown of Mountain View, Calif., the company’s 20 or so autonomous vehicles have developed an abiding sense of caution. Google researchers concede it will take more experience on the roads before the autos can learn to cope with every situation without becoming bewildered and shutting down, stranding passengers. When that happens now, researchers have to take the wheel and step on the gas.

One of the most surprising lessons: While hoping to make cars that are safer than those driven by people, Google has discovered its smart machines need to act a little human, especially when dealing with pushy motorists.

“We found that we actually need to be — not aggressive — but assertive,” with the vehicles, said Nathaniel Fairfield, technical leader of a team that writes software fixes for problems uncovered during the driving tests. “If you’re always yielding and conservative, basically everybody will just stomp on you all day.”

As a result, he said, Google’s cars on freeways tend to leave a shorter distance between themselves and the vehicles they follow than some driver-training manuals recommend, to discourage other motorists from darting dangerously into the space. And when it’s their turn to proceed at a four-way-stop, Fairfield added, Google’s cars will inch forward decisively so other drivers don’t try to beat them through the intersection.

When Google invited a reporter on a half-hour ride to see what the cars have learned, the vehicle carefully cruised through intersections, negotiated construction zones, skirted bicyclists and maneuvered past other motorists without leaving a scratch.


Driverless cars have been a dream for decades, largely as a way to reduce the carnage on the roads. About 35,000 people die of crashes in the U.S. annually, with 90 percent of the accidents due to human error, according to the National Safety Council. Google believes its autos could avoid many such mistakes.

Moreover, many experts believe the vehicles could drive bunched together without risk of colliding, reducing traffic congestion and boosting productivity.

Factoring in all its benefits, the technology could save the U.S. economy about $450 billion annually, according to an analysis by the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonprofit think tank.

The autonomous Navia shuttle, made by the French firm Induct, already shuttles passengers around several overseas college campuses, while London-based Rio Tinto operates more than 50 autonomous trucks at Australian mining sites. And like Google, many car companies are heavily involved in researching the concept. By 2035, 75 percent of vehicles sold worldwide will have some autonomous capabilities, such as being able to park themselves or drive at least part of a trip on autopilot, Navigant Research predicted.

But getting the vehicles to where they need no human intervention will be a major challenge.

A study by corporate adviser KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research concluded it will be difficult to make a car’s software smart enough to know that a ball bouncing into the street might mean a child could come chasing after it. It’s also unclear who would be liable if a self-driving car caused an accident. And if the cars prove vulnerable to hackers, the study warned, “the nefarious possibilities are mind-boggling.”

Another issue is that Google’s cars require detailed computerized maps of the streets where they operate, prompting concerns that it would be a huge undertaking to create such maps for everywhere the vehicles go.

Google officials acknowledge many issues need to be resolved, but say they’re encouraged by their progress so far.

The company recently began experimenting at NASA’s Ames Research Center with a two-seat prototype with no steering wheel or controls other than a stop-and-start button. It also has run its cars through more than 4 million miles of computer-simulated driving. But most of its actual road tests lately have been in Mountain View, which has plenty of potential hazards, from jaywalkers to people chasing ducks.

Those tests are being done with hybrid Lexus cars modified with radar, video cameras, a rooftop laser and other sensors that see everything around them. Several times when those devices detected a bicyclist or another motorist getting worrisomely close during this reporter’s ride, the vehicle slowed and edged away from the potential danger. And when a big bush blocked its view when it needed to turn, the car proceeded at a snail’s pace around the corner until its sensors got a better view and the car picked up speed again.


On state roads, California requires a person be on hand to take control of the car in emergencies. So on the ride by this reporter, one Googler sat in front, in case he had to grab the steering wheel as occasionally happens when the researchers want to be extra cautious, while another monitored computer data on how the car reacted in different situations. They also tried to assess something a bit more subjective — how well the car got along with other traffic.

“Driving can be a social thing where you’re using your vehicle and a little bit of body language in your car to communicate with other drivers what your intentions are,” said Brian Torcellini, who oversees a group of 50 people who participate in the tests. “So we’re now trying to teach the car different ways to sort of fit in with society and the way that other people drive.”

To date, none of the cars has gotten a traffic ticket or caused an accident, though they’ve been rear-ended by other drivers a couple of times, said Google spokeswoman Katelin Jabbari.

That was verified by Bernard Soriano, deputy director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, adding “we’re pleased” by the safety record.

So when will Google’s cars be commercially available?

Company co-founder Sergey Brin has predicted it could be as soon 2017.

If so, that probably would be in limited areas for ride-sharing services or others who could operate the cars more economically than individual consumers, said Lawrence Burns, a former General Motors executive who’s now a Google consultant.

But eventually, he expects the cars to become commonplace, assuming they can get enough experience with bizarre situations.

“I’m optimistic,” Burns said. “Every mile is a chance to discover something unusual.”

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